Changing status of women and social movements
The status of women has been the central concern of many reform movements before and after independence. Leaders of the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj were concerned with issues like sati, remarriage, divorce, female education, purdah system, polygamy, and dowry.
women’s participation in movements has been in four major forms:
- For social, economic and political rights of specific categories of people like tribals, peasants and industrial workers,
- For improvement in conditions of work and autonomy to women,
- For equal remuneration for work,
- In general social movements on issues affecting men and children like abortions, adoption of children, sexual exploitation, etc.
It could be said that Indian women’s movements worked for two goals: one, liberation or uplift of women, i.e., reforming social practices so as to enable women to play a more important and constructive role in society; and two, equal rights for men and women, i.e., extension of civil rights enjoyed by men in the political, economic and familial spheres to women also.
The factors that provided the required incentive to women’s movements were:
effect of western education on the male domination on women and on the concept of complementary sex roles, leadership provided by educated elite women, interest of male social reformers in changing social practices sanctioned by religion, changing socio-religious attitudes and philosophies, and decreasing social hostility and opposition of males to women’s associations engaged in self-help activities, and benevolent attitude of political national leaders towards fledgling women’s movements and their enthusiastic support to women campaigns.
The declaring of 1975-85 decade as the International Women’s decade also gave impetus to women’s movements for removing the notion of inferiority of women and giving them a sense of identity. The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) established by the Government of India in 1953, also promotes and strengthens voluntary efforts for the welfare of women. The Ministry of Welfare, Government of India, too gives grants to voluntary organisations for activities like construction/expansion of hostels for working women in cities.
It can be averred that social movements were either change-resisting or change-promoting, i.e., those which aimed at the participants’ deprivation and concerned with their welfare and uplift. We concentrated on those reform movements which pursued their goals through institutionalised means, without unleashing violence and were initiated by some ideological groups through mobilisation process.
The analysis of six types of movements suggests that movements are generally initiated and spread by charismatic leaders or by political parties and religious organisations. In the former case, the ideologies are transmitted downwards while in the latter case, these are transmitted upwards. Once any movement based on certain ideology changes, it is not necessary that it will spread in course of time, it can gain in strength and it can also lose its vitality either because it is considered irrelevant or because it is suppressed by the government.
Other thing which emerges from the analysis is that:
- Social movements are products of a social structure and emerge out of certain conditions in the social structure,
- Social movements themselves have a structure which makes them functional relative to their goals, and
- Social movements have consequences for the social structure of which they are the products.
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